President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Nairobi, Kenya, attending the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), has recounted the devastating aftermath of the deadly Ebola virus disease on the Liberian economy, which affected every sector of the Liberian society in 2014.
TICAD VI which began on August 25 climaxed yesterday.
Addressing her colleagues and other heads of government, she said she was pleased that the organizers dedicated a special session to discuss a global challenge – building a resilient health system –under the theme, “Promoting Resilient Health Systems for Quality of Life.”
“It brings sad memories; sad recollections of an inadequate health care system; the lack of preparedness and response mechanisms that led to the loss of almost 200 health care workers including medical doctors,” she told her colleagues.
She said Ebola had a profound devastation on the nation, adding, “It led to the near collapse of the economy that was on the way at 5.9 percent growth rate, to rebound from the shock of sharp declines in global commodity prices. Growth plummeted to 0.4 percent, affecting all our plans and targets for expansion in basic services to our people.”
President Sirleaf sadly described how the country still mourns the loss of more than 4,000 of its citizens, including professional public servants and talented youths. However the government is resolved to further strengthen support to the Ebola survivors including orphaned children, who are struggling to be reintegrated into society, she stated.
According to the President, the effect of the crisis went beyond devastation in the affected countries and region as it quickly escalated to a global crisis. “We learned a good lesson from the crisis – that when the community welfare is at stake, community engagement is the best response mechanism.”
“As that experience showed, shifting from policing to participation brought results. The promotion of communication, participation and leadership from the community results in more sustainability in preparedness and resilience. The involvement of community volunteers builds confidence and increases public health awareness at a very low cost. Community mobilization provides citizens the opportunity to take ownership of their wellbeing and health, thus increasing life expectancy and happiness.
“Another good lesson speaks of African solidarity. Although several countries, on a bilateral basis, took action and decisions that stigmatized and sanctioned the affected countries, the Africa Union quickly established the first medical response group, the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA), which brought 265 professional health care workers from seven countries to join nationals in the fight against the virus. Bilateral support from several friendly African countries also played an important role.”
She told the conferees that the three most affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – are not sitting idly and doing nothing, but are in the process of strengthening the resilience of their health systems.
“We have developed a health care regional network system that provides better understanding of the challenges on the affected countries. More importantly, we have developed response mechanisms able to effectively and timely contain any outbreak, as proven twice in Liberia.
“Despite the progress in containing the disease, we recognize the need to do more, to allocate more resources to strengthen our health care system, to ensure strong capacity of health workers, through training, to build and staff properly equipped health institutions. Prior to the outbreak, the Liberian health sector focused on child survival and improved access to essential health services.
“From the debilitating effects of the crisis, a 5-year plan was developed for building a resilient health care system in Liberia. The plan compliments an existing 10-year health plan. Its overarching is to build a resilient health system that not only restores the gains lost in the crisis, but also provides health security for the people by reducing risks due to epidemics and other health threats.”
“The plan further includes the following objectives: Improved access to quality services through strengthened capacity of the health network; Creation of Health Emergency Risk Management Systems; Promoting an enabling environment that restores trust in health authorities through community engagement; Improved leadership, governance and accountability; Development of sustainable health financing systems that ensures efficiency and equity in the use of health resources.
“The achievement of these goals will require Inter-sectoral and cross cutting collaboration. The quality of service in other sectors influence health recovery, such as water and sanitation, social protection, nutrition and food security, gender equity, and road access. On the other hand, the health sector can also provide essential support to other sectors, such as better health promotion programs and infection prevention and control in schools.”
The President stated that Liberia is moving in this direction by establishing a National Public Health Institute to prevent, detect and respond to public health threats through research.
President Sirleaf committed Liberia to work toward Universal Health Coverage.
Meanwhile, in the Draft 2016 to 2017 National Budget, which has stalled before the House of Representatives, the Liberian Government allotted to its health sector the amount of US$76, 995,161. Out of this amount, at least US$28,837,011 will come as a grant from donors.
In the same draft budget, US$6,518,784 was given to the JFK Memorial Hospital; Phebe Hospital in Bong was given US$2,340,341; and the Jackson F. Doe was apportioned close to US$3million.
Within the total amount being received by the entire health sector, the Ministry of Health is expected to receive US$60,345,341.
The Health Ministry was established in 1972 by an Act of the Legislature and is mandated to promote quality health care services and reduce the incidence of preventable diseases throughout the country.
As achievements during the 2015-16 Fiscal Years, it said that it increased the coverage of health facilities; increased reporting timelines of health facilities; conducted counter-verification and contract-monitoring exercises in fifteen counties; registered 659 deaths; and produced 30,875 birth certificates.